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Complete Guide to Heat vs. Blazers and Saturday's NBA Action

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2013

Complete Guide to Heat vs. Blazers and Saturday's NBA Action

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Saturday night's NBA slate is loaded with 12 games, including an intriguing cross-conference matchup that will pit LeBron James and the Miami Heat against LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers. 

    But the fun doesn't end there.  

    The Indiana Pacers will look to win back-to-back games against the Brooklyn Nets when they host Jason Kidd's hapless squad in the second leg of a home-and-home while the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans will clash in a Western Conference showdown that features two of the game's elite bigs going toe-to-toe.  

    So if you need to sneak away from family for a few hours during the extended holiday weekend, Saturday's lineup has everything you need to kick back and relax. 

    Saturday Night's Lineup

    Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics, 1 p.m. ET

    Brooklyn Nets vs. Indiana Pacers, 7 p.m. ET (NBA TV)

    New York Knicks vs. Toronto Raptors, 7 p.m. ET

    Detroit Pistons vs. Washington Wizards, 7 p.m. ET

    Charlotte Bobcats vs. Atlanta Hawks, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Dallas Mavericks vs. Chicago Bulls, 8 p.m. ET

    New Orleans Pelicans vs. Houston Rockets, 8 p.m. ET

    Denver Nuggets vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 8 p.m. ET

    Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 8:30 p.m. ET

    Philadelphia 76ers vs. Phoenix Suns, 9 p.m. ET

    Miami Heat vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. ET

    Utah Jazz vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET

     

    All statistics current as of Dec. 27, and courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com unless noted otherwise. 

Best Matchup of the Night: Miami Heat vs. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Coming off of a four-point overtime victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, the Portland Trail Blazers will look to improve upon their league-leading record of 24-5 when they square off against the defending champion Miami Heat on Saturday night. 

    And boy does this one have all the makings of a heavyweight prizefight.

    The Blazers and Heat currently rank first and second, respectively, in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions), while both squads boast MVP candidates in LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge. 

    However, when it comes to defensive efficiency, Miami ranks far better, limiting opponents to the seventh-fewest points per 100 possessions while Portland sits at No. 23 overall, surrendering 107.3 points per 100 possessions.

    The Blazers figure to have their hands full with James, who's in the midst of the most efficient season of his career. James entered Friday night shooting a staggering 59.5 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from three while posting a league-best player efficiency rating of 29.76.

    Some more bad news for Portland: Prior to Friday night's loss against the Sacramento Kings, Miami was a perfect 7-0 against the West this season and had not lost a game to a Western Conference team since Jan. 14, 2013, according to B/R's Ethan Skolnick. They'll now be even more motivated to bounce back on the second night of a back-to-back with Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen presumably back in the lineup after the two rested on Friday. 

    It's too early to declare this an NBA Finals preview, but Heat-Blazers figures to entertain fans with playoff-level intensity in front of a raucous Moda Center crowd. 

Must-See Individual Matchup: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. LeBron James

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    Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Spo

    LeBron James may be the front-runner to take home the league's MVP hardware at this point in time, but Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge doesn't lag far behind. 

    Not convinced? Just check out some of these outrageous stats, courtesy of B/R's Josh Martin

    At the foundation of Aldridge's campaign are impressive standard stats. He ranks in the top eight in both scoring (23.4) and rebounding (11). He's also sixth among power forwards in assists at 2.9 per game.

    [...]

    Absence can and often does play a part in major awards voting, and it certainly should here. When Aldridge is on the court, Portland bests its opposition by 10.5 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Blazers are outscored by 8.9 points per 100 possessions. 

    However, James' statistical output this season has been unprecedented. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, no player has ever finished a single season averaging at least 25 points, six rebounds and six assists while shooting 59 percent or better from the field, all figures that James is currently posting. In fact, only three players in league history have ever averaged better than 25 points a game on 59 percent shooting or better: Kevin McHale, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal

    In addition, James entered Friday night scoring the league's eighth-most points per possession (1.14), according to mySynergySports (subscription required) and is scoring the most points per possession (1.19) in post-up situations, which account for 16.2 percent of his offense. 

    And after witnessing how deadly James was in transition on Christmas Day, it should come as no surprise that he scores the league's fifth-most points per possession (1.48) in transition. 

    Whether he's doing it in the half court or on the fast break, James will find a way to torture opposing defenses. 

    Regardless of who comes out on top, the matchup between James and Aldridge will be a clash of scoring titans. So far this season, the two have combined to produce 30 points or more in a single game 12 times, while Aldridge is coming off of a 32-point outing on 15-of-30 shooting against the Clippers.  

Who Has the Most on the Line?

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    While it's hard to determine which New York team is in more dire straits, it would be hard to deny that the Brooklyn Nets have been this season's biggest disappointment.

    “I’m surprised at this season, how it’s played out altogether,” point guard Deron Williams said following Wednesday's loss, according to the New York Times' Andrew Keh. “It’s like a nightmare.” 

    Factor in Jason Kidd's reported verbal thrashing of his squad following Wednesday's loss, and the Nets appear to be close to melting down completely. 

    ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk has the details: 

    According to league sources, after Kidd yelled at the team on Wednesday, Kevin Garnett stood up and vented his frustration before walking out to the showers. Multiple sources stressed Garnett backs Kidd and that the veteran's frustration has been building over some of his teammates' lack of fight after the Nets lost by 17 points for the second straight game.

    Sources also said Garnett's walking out was viewed as him being one of the few Nets to care about the team's downward spiral.

    With a matchup looming against the Indiana Pacers, who have won three straight, including a 103-86 victory over the Nets on Monday, and Brooklyn appears to have a real shot at slipping behind the Philadelphia 76ers and into the Atlantic Division cellar. 

    The Pacers are currently in possession of the league's No. 1 defense, which is disastrous news for a Nets team that's managing just 103.9 points per 100 possessions and is without its best offensive player (Brook Lopez) for the remainder of the season. 

Injury Report

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    Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

    Here are some notable names who could miss Saturday's action due to injury.  

    Atlanta Hawks

    Al Horford (Pectoral)

    According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Chris Vivlamore, Al Horford suffered a complete tear of his right pectoral muscle. He's currently without a formal timetable but is out indefinitely. 

     

    Boston Celtics

    Rajon Rondo (Knee) 

    The Celtics point guard continues to work his way back from a torn ACL, but isn't expected to make a return until late January. 

     

    Brooklyn Nets

    Brook Lopez (Foot) 

    General Manager Billy King confirmed last weekend that Brook Lopez would miss the remainder of the season with a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right foot. 

     

    Charlotte Bobcats 

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Hand) 

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist suffered a fractured left hand at the beginning of the month and his original timetable for recovery was listed as four to six weeks. It would be a surprise to see him back on the floor before the New Year. 

     

    Chicago Bulls

    Luol Deng (Achilles) 

    The Chicago Bulls' leading scorer in Derrick Rose's absence continues to deal with nagging soreness in his Achilles that caused him to miss Wednesday's Christmas Day matchup with the Brooklyn Nets. It's currently a day-to-day injury that will have Deng listed as questionable moving forward. 

    Joakim Noah (Hip)

    Joakim Noah will be a game-time decision after sitting out Friday's practice with tightness in his hip, according to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson

     

    Denver Nuggets 

    JaVale McGee (Leg) 

    JaVale McGee remains sidelined due to a fractured tibia and is out indefinitely until a further update on his status is provided. 

    Kenneth Faried (Ankle)

    Kenneth Faried has been dealing with a sprained ankle that has him listed as questionable for Saturday night's contest against the Memphis Grizzlies. 

     

    Houston Rockets

    Patrick Beverley (Hand) 

    The Houston Rockets' starting point guard will miss four to six weeks with a fracture of his right fourth metacarpal. Jeremy Lin will continue to start in his place. 

     

    Los Angeles Clippers

    J.J. Redick (Hand, Elbow) 

    J.J. Redick is out until the New Year as he works his way closer to a return after suffering a fractured hand and torn ligament in his right elbow. 

     

    Memphis Grizzlies 

    Marc Gasol (Knee) 

    Marc Gasol will miss Saturday's game against the Denver Nuggets, but doctors believe that he could return from a Grade 2 MCL sprain shortly after the New Year begins. 

     

    New Orleans Pelicans

    Eric Gordon (Hip)

    Eric Gordon is questionable for Saturday's contest against the Houston Rockets after taking a hard fall and suffering a right hip contusion against the Sacramento Kings on Monday. Gordon's hip is still "very sore," according to the New Orleans Times Picayune

     

    New York Knicks

    Carmelo Anthony (Ankle)

    Carmelo Anthony is expected to miss his third straight game with a sprained ankle, according to ESPN New York's Ian Begley

    Raymond Felton (Groin)

    The New York Knicks' starting point guard remains questionable as he continues to deal with a groin injury that was suffered on Dec. 23. 

     

    Portland Trail Blazers

    C.J. McCollum (Foot) 

    The No. 10 overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft has returned to practice, according to CSN Northwest's Chris Haynes, but the team is still not providing a timetable for his return.  

     

    All injury information courtesy of CBS Sports unless noted otherwise. 

Pop-in Potential: Denver Nuggets vs. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    Both the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets have underperformed after stellar 2012-13 campaigns, but that doesn't mean their matchup on Saturday night isn't filled with entertaining potential. 

    The matchup to watch here will be between point guards Mike Conley and Ty Lawson, each of whom has been holding the fort down for their respective teams despite a slew of injuries. 

    In fact, B/R's Adam Fromal currently has Conley ranked two spots ahead of Lawson in his point guard rankings due to the profound impact he's making on both ends of the floor: 

    Mike Conley has used the 2013-14 campaign to emerge as a left-handed, two-way wrecking ball at the point guard position. 

    Not only has he stepped up to the challenge after Marc Gasol went down, taking on more of the ball-handling responsibilities and becoming the clear-cut No. 1 option for the Memphis Grizzlies, but he's also maintained his defensive presence.

    [...]

    His individual numbers may not show it, but Conley is the engine behind the Grizz's defense, at least while Gasol is out of the lineup. He pressures opposing point guards, jumps passing lanes and leads the team on that end of the court. 

    As for Lawson, he'll need to play one of his best games of the season against a Grizzlies defense that's surrendering the league's seventh-fewest points per game. 

    That's going to be a tall task, though, especially when you consider that Lawson entered Friday night averaging 12.4 points and 6.9 assists on 36.4 percent shooting from the field in December. 

    The Griz will be looking to bounce back after suffering a harsh defeat at the hands of the Houston Rockets on Thursday, one in which James Harden got to the free-throw line 25 times—five more than Memphis did as a team. 

    And despite his frustration with the refereeing in the second half of Thursday's game, Zach Randolph put together a fine performance, totaling 23 points and 17 boards in the loss.

    In order to put together an equally impressive outing, Randolph will need to overcome a Nuggets defense that's surrendering the league's 11th-fewest points per 100 possessions under head coach Brian Shaw. 

Fantasy Stock Watch

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    With 24 teams in action on Saturday, it's time to examine two studs and a sleeper who should be plugged into fantasy lineups as the week nears a close. 

     

    The Big Guns

    Andre Drummond

    Owners who spent an early draft pick on Andre Drummond are likely sitting pretty near the top of the standings, because the Detroit Pistons big man has been positively dynamite this season.

    Entering Friday night, Drummond was posting averages of 13.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.5 steals all while posting the league's second-highest field-goal percentage (62.2).

    And while it seems improbable, Drummond's averages in December have trumped those from November, as he's scored 14.6 points a night while pulling down 13.4 rebounds and blocking 2.1 shots in 14 games this month. 

    With a matchup against the Washington Wizards looming, Drummond could have a field day against the opposition's underwhelming frontcourt. 

     

    Kyrie Irving

    After failing to score a point against the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 6, Kyrie Irving turned a corner. That became evident when he dropped 30 points or more in three of five games from Dec. 10 to Dec. 20. 

    Just like the Cleveland Cavaliers, Irving's season got off to a rocky start, as he shot just 40.9 percent from the field and 31.3 percent from three in November. 

    However, Irving's been far more reliable of late, averaging 24.5 points on 45.2 percent shooting from the field and 36.9 percent from three while dishing out 6.4 assists a night in December. 

    His offensive rating has also jumped 15 points since November (98 to 113), and is starting to more closely resemble the dominant offensive force we saw during his breakout 2012-13 campaign. 

     

    The Sleeper

    Tim Hardaway Jr. 

    Forget J.R. Smith. Tim Hardaway Jr. is the instant offensive producer all fantasy owners should be targeting after the rookie's season-high 21-point outburst against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas Day. 

    Entering Friday night, Hardaway Jr. had scored in double figures in four of his last six games, and has seen his minutes increase from 13.7 per game in November to 22.8 in December. 

    In addition, Hardaway's converting on better than 40 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, including 43.6 percent in December. His mark of 47.3 percent shooting from the field also ranks first on the team among all wing players. 

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